The spotted-bill might well be called the Indian mallard; it is so like the female of that bird, or rather perhaps like some abnormally coloured tame duck, that it would hardly attract attention at a distance, the only conspicuous colour point being the broad snow-white streak along the sides of the dark hinder back, which streak is the outer webs of the innermost wing-feathers. Close at hand, several detailed differences become noticeable; the brilliant and characteristic coloration of the bill, twin-spotted with scarlet at the forehead, jet-black in the middle, and rich yellow at the tip; the bright green instead of blue wing-bar; and the way in which the plumage, pale drab speckled with black in the forequarters, gradually shades into black at the stern, a style of coloration never matched among all the many varieties of the tame duck.
In young spotted-bills the characteristics of the species are not so well developed; the colours of the beak not being separated into the definite tricolour in many instances, the base being orange and the sides as well as the tip yellow. "When it comes to the voice, the relationship of the spotted-bill and mallard is again obvious at once ; in both the quack of the duck and the wheeze of the drake are the same, although the latter in the spotted-bill bears the same unpretentious plumage as his mate.
In weight spotted-bill are pretty much the same as mallard; there is, perhaps, not quite so much difference in the size of the sexes in the Indian bird, and the male spotted-bill does not run so heavy as some mallard—it is a noticeably lighter-built bird when the two are closely compared in life.
The spotted-bill inhabits nearly all our Empire, but is not found in Southern Burma or the islands of the Bay of Bengal; nor does it ascend the hills higher than about 4,000 ft. It never leaves our limits entirely, but, like all birds whose livelihood depends on water, has to shift its quarters more or less to secure favourable conditions. In Central India and in Manipur it is more common than anywhere else.
It is not very particular about its haunts, frequenting small or large ponds, running or standing water; but on the whole standing water with plenty of cover is most to its taste. It does not associate in large flocks like its migratory allies, and pairs are commonly found; a solitary bird will sometimes assume the honorary headship of a flock of teal, but they keep apart from other waterfowl as a rule. On a few occasions as many as a hundred spotted-bill have been seen in a flock, but half this number is rare, and small flocks of about a dozen are usually seen.
The general habits of the spotted-bill are so exactly like those of mallard that it is no wonder the two are sometimes confused. Like its migratory cousin, the Indian bird flies, swims, walks, and dives well; although it rises with more of a fluster and does not get up its pace so quickly, it has the advantage when wounded, as it dives very well and hides most cunningly in any available cover. Its tastes are as omnivorous as those of mallard, and it is a pest to rice-growers at times. Even its nesting-habits are similar, as it breeds on the ground in grass or other shelter, not in the elevated sites usually favoured by most of our resident ducks. The eggs can be distinguished from mallard eggs by their rounder form and more buff tinge, not being greenish; ten is the usual sitting, but the full number of ducklings are never apparently reared ; in fact, considering the ground-breeding habits of the bird, and the abundance of all sorts of vermin in India, the wonder is that it is so common at all. It is universally valued as a sporting bird, and is as good eating as mallard ; so close is the alliance that the two species when brought together in captivity interbreed without hesitation. The native names, however, keep up the distinction of species; the spotted-bill being called Hunjur in Sindhi, and Gugral as well as Garmpai in Hindustani; Kara is the Manipuri name, and Naddun that used in Nepaul.